FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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November 7, 2013 11:18 AM

From MuckRock: The New York Police Department's animus toward Freedom of Information requests is legendary, and mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has been one of the department's most outspoken critics. As de Blasio takes the City Hall reins, transparency advocates have a tremendous opportunity. But if you want real reform, hold de Blasio to his watchdog roots.

In his current role as NYC Public Advocate, Mr. de Blasio has called out the NYPD for their inability (or unwillingness) to comply with the state's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In April, his office put out a comprehensive report that graded each city department's responsiveness to public records requests. The NYPD scored a solid "F," having failed to answer or "losing" nearly a third of FOIL requests submitted during the three-month analysis period.

[...]

When Bill de Blasio is sworn in on January 1, he will assume the authority to act on all of his recommendations for opening up NYC government to public scrutiny, and the police in particular. As mayor, de Blasio can make real the reforms he has proposed and evolve from critic to catalyst.

If you're interested in helping hold him to those promises, check out the NYPD's agency page on MuckRock and join our mailing list: MuckRock users are keeping an the NYPD's progress, and you can help.

Visit MuckRock for more.

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July 12, 2013 9:12 AM

From NFOIC:  A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Opinion: Overturn bad ethics law

The apparent intent of the law is to help prevent public officials from being embarrassed or compromised by frivolous complaints to the ethics board. But we believe the public is smart enough to sort through competing claims and counterclaims as ethics complaints work their way through the system. To make such informed judgments, citizens need an open, transparent process in which those bringing ethics complaints — and those defending against such complaints — have wide latitude to speak freely. The present law, which favors those in authority at the expense of those who challenge authority, seems like an exercise in dictatorship, not democracy.

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North Jersey Media Group sues Gov. Christie for public records

Gov. Chris Christie's office refuses to release records that could show just what Republican campaign contributors did under state contracts after Hurricane Sandy, The Record newspaper claims in court. The North Jersey Media Group, whose flagship is The Record, sued New Jersey, the Governor's Office and Custodian of Records Hillary Hewit, in Mercer County Court. Record reporter Shawn Boburg submitted an Open Public Records Act request for invoices and attachments submitted to the state by Witt Group Holdings. The state eventually produced records but the timesheets were "heavily redacted," The Record says in the complaint. It wants to see the unredacted records.

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Battle Ground (Wash.) school district may have violated state law

Battle Ground Public Schools appears to have violated the state's Public Records Act by withholding a severance agreement with its embattled former superintendent. The school board members signed an agreement with Superintendent Shonny Bria on April 29, withheld the document for almost two months, and when The Columbian and The Reflector made specific public records requests about Bria's compensation, the district denied that such a record existed. "When it's signed by both parties, it then becomes a public document," said Matt Miller, deputy state auditor of the Washington State Auditor's Office. Miller said he will be looking at the Battle Ground case.

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FOI Oklahoma blog: Governor claims political influences on state policy should be kept secret

Gov. Mary Fallin is claiming an executive privilege to hide records that reveal political considerations behind her decisions on state policy. Included would be documents telling Fallin "who might be supportive of certain policy agendas in the legislature, both now and in the future, whether such support would exist after an upcoming election, and whether facts exist to help persuade the legislatures and others to support the governor's agenda," according to the formal response to an Open Records Act lawsuit against the governor. Fallin is the first Oklahoma governor to claim these privileges even though as a candidate she pledged to "support at every opportunity" the state's policy that "people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power."

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Connecticut FOI advocate says law after Sandy Hook shootings protecting photos goes too far

[Senate Bill 1149] was born behind closed doors in secret meetings among the governor’s staff, legislative leaders and the state’s top prosecutor. It bypassed the traditional public hearing process and was signed into law within 12 hours of the vote. Along the way, the exemptions in the bill were expanded from Newtown-specific privacy protections to include protections for all homicide victims when the the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus of senators and House members argued that lone victims on city streets should be entitled to the same respect as the Newtown victims and their families.

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Man files FOIA lawsuit against Whitestone (N.Y.) over civic virtue

A group advocating for the Triumph of Civic Virtue statue has filed a lawsuit against a city agency, claiming that it did not fully comply with its Freedom of Information request. Robert LoScalzo, a Whitestone resident and documentary filmmaker, submitted a lawsuit against the Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services accusing the agency of not handing over all the documents he asked for in his FOIA application. ... The FOIA requested that DCAS hand over all of their communication documents with Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery, where the structure was moved and the contractor who performed the job.

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Editorial: Public info belongs to the people of King County (Wash.)

In the Shoreline case, the information was being sought by Beth and Doug O’Neil after the content of an email criticizing the Shoreline City Council was read aloud at a meeting and incorrectly attributed to Beth O’Neil. She wanted to know who wrote the email and requested a copy. They received the email but not the metadata ... Four years later, in 2010, the state Supreme Court ruled metadata were subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. But the city hired computer experts who searched for the original message and later testified it was lost, according to The Associated Press. And that brings us to the $538,555 award by the judge — $438,555 for legal costs and $100,000 in damages.

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Hartford Courant Editorial: Who loses when the public's business is done in secret?

During this year's session of the General Assembly, more than the usual amount of legislation was negotiated in secret, pushed to passage without a public hearing, sprung on unsuspecting lawmakers by leaders in the session's last minutes or otherwise hatched without proper vetting. The legislative corner-cutting at the expense of transparency is becoming so prevalent that some harried freedom-of-information advocates bandied about the idea of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit legislation from becoming law without a public hearing.

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March 22, 2013 10:51 AM

A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out the State FOIA Friday Archives.

Proposal would charge $10 to search court records in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a move that is raising concern about limiting access to public documents, California courts could charge $10 for each record search under a proposal included in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget. The governor included the search fee as one of the ways the courts can raise $30 million a year to offset budget cuts. ... Media organizations and good-government advocates worry that such a fee would restrict access to files the public has a right to view. Democratic lawmakers also expressed distaste for restricting information to those who can afford it.

Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the rest.

University of California Board of Regents files appeal to overturn public records ruling

The UC Board of Regents filed an appeal with the First Appellate District in San Francisco to overturn an earlier ruling mandating the university to disclose information on its investment returns, according to a statement released Thursday. In the earlier ruling made in February, the Alameda County Superior Court mandated the UC to comply with public records requests for its investments, some of which were made with public money. Reuters America filed the suit against the UC system last year in response to the university’s failure to comply with a public records request.

Visit The Daily Califoirnian for the rest.

EDITORIAL: Latest FOIA roadblock just another dose of legislative hypocrisy

We have told you before about the need for more transparency – a lot more – in state government, and a bill that would help in that regard is once again winding its way through the Legislature. Here’s the latest, and it’s not good news: The bill in question took a detour in the House this week. By an overwhelming majority, representatives voted to send it back to committee. That’s seldom a good thing, although Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, the bill’s chief sponsor, vows it’s not the end. We'll see.

Visit SCNow.com for the rest.

Baton Rouge Police Union files lawsuit against State Police for public records

The Baton Rouge Police Union is suing Louisiana State Police for access to public records related to former Baton Rouge Chief Dewayne White. The office of Mayor-President Kip Holden fired White on Feb. 6. State Police rejected a Feb. 18 public records request for documents concerning disciplinary action involving White’s time as a state trooper.

Visit NOLA.com for the rest.

Bronx public records blocked by court

Every year, Bronx judges appoint hundreds of attorneys to handle vital matters for incapacitated people or distressed property. These individuals, known as “fiduciary appointees,” are well-paid for their time, earning a total of $2.6 million in the Bronx last year. Despite reforms put in place in 2003 to stem the tide of political patronage, many top appointees are also well-connected, with strong ties to the Bronx Democratic Party and the political organizations that help judges win election, a recent investigation by the The Riverdale Press found.

Visit The Riverdale Press for the rest.

Judge again sides with Gannett New Jersey in public-records fight with Raritan Borough

A judge once again has sided with Gannett New Jersey in its public-records lawsuit against Raritan Borough. Seven months after Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone issued a precedent-setting decision ordering the Somerset County borough to release its employee payroll records in a digital format, Ciccone this week denied the borough’s latest efforts to charge for the information. Ciccone’s decision is the latest ruling supporting both the newspaper company’s effort to deliver news as well as the public’s right to know under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

Visit MyCentralJersey.com for the rest.

January 16, 2013 10:13 AM

From Business Insider:

In addition to placing landmark restrictions on gun ownership, the gun bill working its way through the New York legislature could give gun owners new privacy rights.
 
After The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. used the Freedom of Information Act to publish a map revealing the names and addresses of registered gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties, some politicians apparently decided it was time for change.
 
[...]
 
Part of the new gun law amends state public records laws to protect gun owners from being publicly identified, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

 

January 11, 2013 11:19 AM

From New York State Committee on Open Government:

NEW YORK: REPORT TO THE GOVERNOR AND THE STATE LEGISLATURE

Open Data: Key to the Future -- Not long ago, the term “E-Government” meant “electronic” government and referred to the use of new technologies to increase government transparency. It encompassed primarily the adoption of e-mail and other electronic means to facilitate government’s response to public inquiries. Today the term has a new, far broader meaning. “E-Government” now represents the proactive use of technologies to make the vast amounts of valuable government-held information more widely available, and to facilitate its ready use by policy makers and the public alike. Understood in this sense, E-Government transforms the foundations of open government: transparency, participation and collaboration.

[...]

 

A.  Open Data:  The Essential Next Phase  
 
As we continue to analyze the potential benefits of proactive disclosure, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of “open data” to attaining these benefits. An open or free file format refers to the way digital data is stored.  Open data is information made available in a digital format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, searched and used with commonly available software and web search applications.   
 
Maximizing the potential of E-Government requires not only pro-active disclosure, but disclosure wherever possible in a form that is readily useable—avoiding proprietary formats in favor of standard systems and methods.  This objective should be embraced in the provisions of FOIL itself, which can readily be achieved within the current structure of the statute. 

See the rest of the report here.

November 16, 2012 2:26 PM

A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week:

ACLU lawsuit claims they were denied access to public records

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey claims in a lawsuit that the city of Passaic and its custodian of records have illegally denied it access to public records concerning police devices that read motor vehicle license plates. ...[T]he ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed federal Freedom of Information Act requests with the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to learn how the federal government funds and uses the license plate-reading technology.

Visit NorthJersey.com for the rest.

Age of Access: Asheville's budding open-data push

Although local governments have a huge amount of useful information that’s theoretically “public,” actually getting ahold of it can prove challenging, time-consuming and expensive. The idea is to bypass formal data requests (and the resulting demands on staff time to compile them) by enabling anyone with a computer or a smartphone to find out instantly what’s available — and access it, for free, anytime.

Open Data Day coincided with the city’s releasing a provisional version of an online open-data catalog. Meanwhile, Code for America, a national nonprofit that’s been described as a Peace Corps for geeks, has established a volunteer “brigade” in Asheville to help advance the process, with further assistance possible down the road.

Visit Mountain Xpress for the rest.

Chairman of Del. water authority in public records dispute promises "information release" soon

CAMDEN, Del. — The chairman of a Delaware water and sewer authority says he expects an "information release" soon in a public records dispute. Mark Dyer, chairman of the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority, said Thursday that information would come probably by the end of the month. He didn't specify what records would be provided. He also didn't say whether the authority would fully comply with a judge's order to follow Delaware's Freedom of Information Act and disclose information about employee salaries.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Utah Transit Authority ordered to disclose crime data

The State Records Committee voted 3-2 on Thursday to stop what its chairwoman said is an attempt by the Utah Transit Authority to use high fees to block access to public data. It ordered UTA police to give free access to public data in its crime database to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Visit Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

West Virginia chapter ACLU files a FOIA request with the city of Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG - The West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Parkersburg seeking records about citations to individuals or organizations for soliciting funds without a permit. The request stems from citations issued to panhandlers standing at intersections with handmade signs asking for help from passing motorists.

Visit Parkersburg News and Sentinel for the rest.

2012 Digital Cities Survey winners announced

n this year's Digital Cities Survey, which highlights local governments demonstrating IT best practices to better serve its constituents, four cities took top honors: Louisville, Ky.; Salt Lake City; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Marana, Ariz. The Digital Cities Survey, now in its 12th year, is conducted by the Center for Digital Government (CDG), a division of Government Technology's parent company, eRepublic Inc. The survey was underwritten by AT&T, McAfee, ShoreTel and Sprint.

Visit Government Technology for the rest.

State rules in Wellesley (Mass.) schools' favor in public records request

Wellesley — The Massachusetts Supervisor of Public Records has sided with the Wellesley Public Schools in a dispute over the costs of a records request made by the Wellesley Townsman.

Visit The Wellesley Townsman for the rest.

Oklahoma lawmakers hear from open-government advocates

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma appears to be one of only three states in which the Legislature has exempted itself from open records laws, a Senate panel was told Tuesday. The other two states are Massachusetts and Oregon, said Joey Senat, associate professor at the Oklahoma State University School of Media and Strategic Communications.

Visit Tulsa World for the rest.

UNC audit uncovers $123,500 missing from performing arts series office

CHAPEL HILL -- The box office and business operation of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Performing Arts series could not account for $123,500 in revenue that disappeared between 2007 and 2011, according to an internal university audit. The yearlong audit revealed that during a four-year period, $121,000 in cash revenue and another $2,500 in checks were missing from the business operation that oversees the box office for performances at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall and other arts events. The audit was released to The News & Observer following a public records request.

Visit Winston-Salem Journal for the rest.

Want a copy of your town's annual budget in New York? It's not as easy as it seems

Most of Broome County’s 16 towns this year failed to comply with a new state law that requires all municipalities to post their budget proposals online — if they have a website — before holding public hearings on them. And despite longstanding requirements under state law, two would not release paper copies of the budgets until after public hearings on them.

Visit pressconnects.com for the rest.

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